Trans & the Art of Doing Nothing

My mother recently broke her femur. Last night she told me over the phone how much she is enjoying being off work, now that she’s not using a walker. I’m glad I wasn’t around to witness the walker stage of her healing. My mother is the most fidgety person I’ve ever met, she’s constantly animated by energy — I think she might be a medium for restless ghosts. Interestingly, this week would have been the week I’d have gone back to work if I was still teaching; I’ve been off since June 2017 doing graduate studies. My mother’s accidental vacation and the levity and joy that have returned to her voice as a result of it got me to thinking about how much I am not enjoying being off work. This isn’t because work is my life, I really would prefer not work. But unlike my mother, I don’t have the security of a job to go back to and compensation for being off. Until June, I was ostensibly still in class, but I had a lot of downtime too, time that I could have been using to try and remedy my lack of income. I could have also used it to do so many other things I need to do. I need to file a human rights complaint against the Province of Ontario for not allowing me to change my name as a non-resident. But far from that monumental task, I can barely get up to go to the bathroom some days.

The activities I do manage all centre on immigration stuff, to the ongoing fight with trying to see a gender doctor here in the Netherlands, the endless medical tests, and attempts to maintain a stock of estradiol injections. My therapist says that I am too hard on myself, that most of their trans clients place their exterior lives on hold as they transition. But I can’t do this, I have no choice but to try and push forward, there is no cacoon to retreat into, no beam to hang my chrysalis from. But simple tasks are becoming so hard. Writing, paying bills, reading, going outside, reading emails. Everything seems hostile and obstructionist. I’ve adopted what I call “Schrödinger’s I’m not looking in the box” approach to anxiety management. This is where the email can’t represent another hurdle, obstruction, or barrier if I just don’t look at it. It’s when I open the email, go outside to the store, or generally do anything that the waveform collapses and the bad outcome happens (the cat got gassed [the immigration form was incorrect, or the referral didn’t get recieved]). It’s easier to just retreat to bed, it’s not a transformative womb, but rather a duvet barrier that prevents me from watching possibility collapse into a negative reality. And of course, it’s hard to look too far beyond myself, that reality is even worse: who looked inside that box?

Some people would see this ennui as a harbinger of the untenability of trans subjectivity, i.e. being trans isn’t valid. But when I see these arguments, the interviews that are used in support of their agenda, I see something similar to what I’ve outlined above, namely that exterior factors make being trans exceedingly difficult, not the actual being trans part. Trans people are subjected to unimaginable — if you are cis — pressures, just to arrive at the same nominal position everyone else has as a default (“everyone” referring to the hegemonic). So here I sit, dissociating in bed. I think if I could just get one small victory (my name changed, a new passport, my immigration document handled, a work permit, a doctor’s visit, steady access to HRT, an initial consultation for bottom surgery), then I could resume pushing the boulder back up the hill. Instead, this sissy is taking a break.

I’m trans, a PhD candidate in Gender Studies, and a researcher.

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